William Heck

Bill is an Australian poet whose passion it is to record the extraordinary stories of average Australians. He finds verse to be an accessible medium that helps him to paint those tales with romance and myth.

GHOST GUM

Breathe… Relax and breathe… Be the tree
Sense… The rapid pulse … an earthly sinner
Sway… Stretch the trunk… Moving free
Focus… Channel the mind… Be the winner

He stretches his fingers, his limbs – flex
Short stubby branches with nails like leaves
Chewed down by nervous grubs to the quick
White hair, white pants, white shirt cut – no sleeves
He is old, a veteran, time his ally but not his friend
Absolved from sin but called to the dark side – hostile
He is the Ghost Gum, waiting for his time to arch and bend

The Cicada hums his introduction
Invisible – name, brief, point to start
The Oak, proud, Australian team green
Pants creased by whetstone, solid heart
The Redgum, young, strong, favourite gladiator of this ground
The Bottle Tree in blue, hefty girth, imposing, made from beer
The Pine, hair of splintered wood, debutante, pedigree sound

Axemen take your blocks – only two go through
Cicada counts each digit onto nine
The timbre of axe – Ghost gum is away
The count goes on, next Bottle tree then Pine
The forehand gashes deep, the backhand make the kindling fly
Stainless steel Beavers pummelling relentless the little logs
Redgum then Oak strike on their time, chop pro’s – tempo high

The crowd, respectful but candid, urge on
Ghost Gum as his early lead overcome
The crowd enthralled, thrill the timeless sport
Heroes all – the mob cheers them on as one
The signs of stress show, beads of sweat form on the leathery bark
The Bottle tree turns first; the Pine chops round a blink behind
The Redgum and the Oak converging fast from the back mark

Breathe… Did I turn too early…? Head for home
Focus… Don’t look round… Be my best
Sense… The ripping wood… Dry mouth foam
Sway … Extend the axe… Push the rest

Redgum and Bottle Tree draw blow for blow
Their copse into egg timers hacked
Breathing heaves as their bodies take the strain
The fall of the axe maintains unslacked.
Seasoned competitors their pith lifts, responds to the fight
The arena littered with the wooden shrapnel of battle.
Now grunts or groans for every blow, the finish is in sight

The Bottle Tree jams his axe and falters
The Redgum, potent, taps root strength reserve
A triumphant blow as his log cracks through
Oak pips Bottle tree who chocked his nerve
The Pine and then Ghost Gum lumber on steady until the end
When the Ghost Gum concluded his odyssey to warm applause
From the dell – Sport – less than two minutes effort expend

Breathe… In through nose… Out through mouth
Salute… Thank the crowd… Raise the blade
Prove… Shake the hands… Praise the youth
Breathe… Lift the head… The piper paid

A bobcat roars to life and faceless men
Shovel and sweep away the shattered chunks
The Cicada resonates the round result
Those that failed reflect like devout monks
Men that have team support relax to drink, devise and plan
While on its own drowned in the Cicadas relentless blare
Sits the Ghost gum, the veteran, one life form – axe and man

He stretches his fingers, his limbs – flex
Short stubby branches with nails like leaves
Chewed down by nervous grubs to the quick
White hair, white pants, white shirt cut – no sleeves
Sentinel, solitary, silent, spreads a long silhouette
His heart, his love, his passion, his zeal, his life, flows through the axe
He caresses his stone on the edge of the steel – no regret

Breathe… Focus… Sense… Relax… Breathe